On June 6, my father would have been 100. He died 10 years ago. First on July 1, then again on July 2. This is about that time.
Also, my latest book of poems, – here – The Lost Canadian, Poems Selected, Vol.2, dedicated to him, is published today.
I was taking care of my father, in a small way, helping him out because I’d promised I’d do so when he found out he had bladder cancer, went through a few operations, etc., and was on recovery road.
He’d been religious in doing so for my mother when she had cancer in 1978 – him, and my brother – hospital bed in the living room, as much comfort as possible.
One February day in 2003, he was standing in the bank, and his leg broke as he turned around. This was the beginning of a long, uneven road.
He was doing fairly well, but then slipped at home, which required a hospital stay for about a month.
That went ok as far as hospital stays go – and once back home there were exercises, then weekly treatments for the bladder cancer for a time, which tapered to once a month eventually.
I’d drive him back and forth since he’d have a tube inserted directly into the bladder for the chemo, and might or might not be sick afterwards – so simply sleep it off for a few hours.
That went not too badly until the morons at the hospital giving the treatment, after assuring me the procedure was sterile, next time told us it wasn’t – I was asking because he didn’t feel well, and why there was an infection from the procedure.
This led to more in and out hospital stays. The last cycle was from Sept.9 until February/March the next year when he went to a rehab hospital.
While in the hospital prior to the rehab the workers managed to give him a heart infection – who washes hands there anyway – place him in a room immediately after coming out of ICU with a wandering shithead of a patient with MRSA, attempt to give him multiple doses of the wrong medicine, meds contrary to his condition, etc etc etc. (More details later.)
One result was that I was there every day for months to the extent that my father would jokingly refer to ‘our stays in the hospital’ at 10 am until some time after midnight or 1 am being watchful; wheeling him around the hospital in a wheelchair, outside in warmer weather, getting any extras like newspapers, etc. This often resulted in overnight stays sleeping on a couch in the ICU waiting room. My brother was managing his business in another city but did manage to come in on weekends.
My diet then consisted of coffee, some donuts, toasted cheese sandwiches at night. Not good.
At one point while my father was out of the hospital over Christmas holidays, and into January, my brother got hit head-on by some traveling dingbat going the speed limit (she said) on a blustery, very cold day. I found out through a phone message from the police on my answering service when I got back from shopping for some stuff for the house that he’d be transferred when stable to a hospital in Toronto that night if he made it.
He survived – barely. Broken neck, broken collar bone, broken legs, destroyed kneecap, broken ankle, broken foot bones, etc. When he was transported from about a hundred miles out of the city that evening after being stabilized during the afternoon, I was at the doors as the attendants wheeled him in and up to a room where doctors were at work on other accident victims.
I left that night after they had to insert a tube into his side to drain excess fluids, cutting a hole as I stood nearby as he lay there grimacing, tubed out.
That began a series of visits to his hospital which weren’t that frequent, often only 3 times a week, sometimes 2 as he did have a girlfriend who would travel there to stay with him. But that became ‘special’ when my father had to go back into the hospital, and I was ping-ponging from one far end of the city to another those several times a week.
Eventually, 3-4 months later, my brother was getting out of the hospital, and I was going to drive him home that night, checking on my father by cellphone. At the first stop – not driving in the rain and talking – my father didn’t sound good, said he didn’t feel good (and being a realist rather than an alarmist was convincingly able to convey his real state to me), so I proceeded to call a friend of his and mine at the time, and she said she’d call 911, tell them she’d be there, so I called him and told him what was going on.
Firemen broke down the back door, she was there to comfort him against any increasing upset, while I wheeled my brother homeward bound, stayed maybe 5- 10 minutes, and left after he said to just go see to my father, especially since it would take at least an hour in that weather to get to my father’s hospital.
My Dad was stabilized, okay, relaxing, so I left after a few hours.
Over the next several months due to slack attending nurses, disregarding my requests different nights to be extra watchful since I kept a notebook and monitored my father’s blood levels and rhythms and eventually could tell there would be cause to add potassium or whatever else was necessary, they managed to give him several heart attacks, when he’d never had trouble with his heart before. (There are many other incidences or different occurrences which I’ll detail when I do the book)
Nothing like a call or two or three.. at 5 am, after I’d left at 1 am, made it to the bed by 2 am, informing you of those heart attacks; or some wrong-headed panic driven nurse saying ‘we think your father’s going, you’d better rush in’ and finding out that she was uninformed and just dumb.
Rehab came in went, my father only 20 minutes away instead of a half hour, so I’d take him lunch I’d make, get newspapers, we’d walk around the rehab hospital. All this time of course they were pushing, pushing, pushing to get him out.
I had several meetings with all the hospital staff present, doctors included where I argued successfully to maintain my father’s care there awhile longer as he was getting to the point where he’d be better able to manage outside.
He eventually came home, and once again fell, whereby the at-home services said they could no longer provide therapy because he was bruised and thus unable to complete their exercises. Assholes.
Until one day, one night. I said good night, rubbed his legs for the blood flow, got him a warming bag to lay at his feet – all per usual – said good night, gave him a good night kiss, he said he loved me and my brother. I said I’d be back in 15 minutes, as usual again, to check he was sleeping okay.
Had a bath. Went downstairs as my brother came in – he was visiting – turned on the hall light so as not to disturb him, and as I peeked around the corner into his room saw he was asleep on his back. Not usual, as he slept on his side, and I’d left him turned onto his left side.
My brother had just come back in, having been visiting my father earlier in the evening; shaved him, got him into bed. One great thing about my father, for our sakes, was that his mind was always there.
I spoke out to him, as I might usually do, where he’d glance over and smile, and fall back to sleep. This time, nothing.
His eyes were the half-open they are when people die – seeing that made me shiver and I felt as if my stomach had dropped to the floor.
Off to the hospital, riding in the ambulance.
They took him in, and I had to wait as usual before I could go in.. to round a corner and find a doctor with a class inside my father’s room, saying ‘This patient was brought in brain dead…”
Outraged, and hurting, and wanting to hurt, I said, “That’s my father. Not yet a subject for study. Now get the fuck out” loudly but calmly, as I moved into the room. A few of the students looked embarrassed, muttered ‘sorry’ and all filed out, with no word from the doctor.
Death followed next night.
©Dean J. Baker
The Lost Canadian, Poems Selected, Vol.2